It's that time of year again when the Grand National weights are published and we all try and find a bit of value and second guess what horses might actually make the line-up come the big day on 14th April. Yes you read it correctly the 14th of April-so 4 weeks and 1 day after the Gold Cup. That's a week longer than last season to recover from the exertions of Cheltenham should trainers choose to run horses at both.
Over the last few years the Grand National has attracted more classier types and although lovers of the sport have been advocating this for years we are now getting to a position where the majority of all the long distance chases run through the season produce horses that are then unable to be rated high enough to actually run in the biggest staying chase of them all because the top of the handicap is clogged up with 3m chasers. Perhaps those in higher places should consider changing the qualifying criteria to every horse must have won a chase with a distance of 3m 2f or more or to have been placed in one of the qualifying races.
Looking at the field the immediate thing that hits me, as I've said, is the fact that not many horses have run beyond 3m 2f never mind 4m and proven stamina is what you need to win or be placed as we have seen from the past.
If you look back over just the last 5 years Grand Nationals and the first 4 home in each of those races you will see that all bar 2 horses had run well over distances of 3m 2f or more at least once in their career and had done so in races like the Grand National itself or one of the other Nationals, The Hennessy, BET365 or at the Cheltenham Festival etc etc.
This year, as in others, the race is jam packed with horses that simply don't stay far enough to be considered and Gay Trip way back in 1970 was the last horse to win who had previously shown no staying ability.
We also know from past Nationals that most horses that have run in the National before tend not to like it second time around although there are some that take to it better than others but they tend to be placed rather than win as their win chance has since been eradicated by the handicapper.
The last 8 winners were running in the National for the very first time.
However the Becher Chase run at the course in mid winter has always been a good guide and this years race was won by Blaklion with the Last Samuri finishing second 9 lengths back- although the latter is now 8lb better off with the winner so there's potential for a reversal between those two.
Age is a factor in that no horse below 8 has won for 70 years and no horse over 12 has won for 87 years so probably best to avoid those ends of age scale if you can although records are always there to be broken.
The last top weight to win was Red Rum in 1974. Five out of the last 10 winners have carried between 10-11 and 11-6 although that bracket could cover over half the field this time around if the weights go up.
Looking at the top of the handicap with that in mind Definitely Red's main aim is the Gold Cup so he may not run off top weight in this if he's had a hard race in that. Bristol De Mai has already been confirmed a non runner by his trainer. Edwulf is also entered in the Gold Cup and is likely to run there as he was going so well in the 4 miler last season before breaking down. Outlander will be running in the Bowl at Aintree according to connections and Minella Rocco is also due to run in the Gold Cup having finished 2nd in it last season so that could leave Blaklion as top weight on 11-10 and even he has an outside chance of running in the Gold Cup according to his trainer.
Last season One For Arthur came into the race not having run since 16th January ie 84 days earlier which was a break from the norm as the previous 24 winners had all run within 55 days of the race itself.
Using the staying factor criteria as a starting point the ones I'm going to look at in more depth for win purposes only are Minella Rocco, Total Recall, Vicente, Tiger Roll, Chase The Spud, Seeyouatmidnight, Vyta Du Roc, Caroles Destrier, Abolitionist, I Just Know, Final Nudge and Milansbar who all have good staying form over the required 3m 2f or more in this class of race.
Most of the ones I've chosen haven't run in the National before which is an angle that I like as they wont have formed an opinion about the course in their own head yet and are therefore more likely to run true to form.
MINELLA ROCCO - Won the 4m Chase at the Cheltenham festival in 2016 and also finished 3rd in the Bet Victor Hcap Chase at Cheltenham over 3m 3f in Nov 2016. He was 2nd in last years Gold Cup behind Sizing John. He's been out of sorts recently and the Gold Cup is his main target again- also his trainer thinks he would need to improve his jumping before tackling this. Stable have won this before with Don't Push It but if he has a hard race in the Gold Cup he's unlikely to run here. 8 years old.
TOTAL RECALL - Won this seasons Ladbroke Trophy Chase over 3m 2f at Newbury which has often been a reliable trial to this race in the past albeit it was slower than the year before. He seems to be on an upward curve form wise and its case of how far can he go. The plan is Aintree according to the stable and he looks like having another race before that and barring injury he should run. Stable have won this before with Hedgehunter 13 years ago in 2005 and this horse has a similar profile and there's a good chance Ruby Walsh will be in the saddle come the big day. 9 years old.
Total Recall is now a definite runner in the Gold Cup according to Mullins and that race is his main aim.
VICENTE - Brought down at the first last year by Henderson's Cocktails At Dawn so can be excused his run in the race. Has the required form having won the Scottish National twice over 4m. He was also 5th behind Minella Rocco in the 4 miler at the festival in 2016 and he comes to life in the spring. He is likely to be Trevor Hemmings only runner in the race who as we know likes a winner or two in the North and has won the race before as has Paul Nicholls with Neptune Collonges. He has the speed and class to go close if he can stay up this time round - although he was well beaten by Caroles Destrier in 2016 Hennesy. He has an entry in the Eider Chase and it may be case of seeing how he gets on in that. 9 years old.
TIGER ROLL - Won the 4m Chase at the Cheltenham festival last season after tanking along throughout and he meets Edwulf who he would probably have beaten there in any event on 14lb better terms. His jumping is a bit chancy though as he tends to launch himself a bit low and your heart is in your mouth most of the race as he often makes a bad blunder. He is a likely runner although he will contest the Cross Country Chase at the festival first. Stable have won this before with Silver Birch and finished 2nd with Cause Of Causes. If his jumping was better I would be keen on his chance. 8 years old.
CHASE THE SPUD - A big, staying galloping chaser who won the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter last March over 4m one and half furlongs staying on really well in the final half mile to outstay Mysteree. He had previously been 2nd over 3m 4f at Haydock behind the same rival too. Paddy Brennan thinks he's made for Aintree although he can be a bit quirky. He will go for the Eider Chase next on route to Aintree. He looks a likely runner at this stage. 10 years old.
SEEYOUATMIDNIGHT - 3rd in the Scottish National behind Vicente in 2016 beaten three lengths. Hasn't had much racing since then and its a case of whether he can bounce back to his best after his suspensory problem and he reportedly has a prep race at Kelso on 4th March. Looks like being the only Scottish trained runner in the race. Because he hasn't run for a while there is the prospect of him bouncing if his second race back is the National. 10 years old.
VYTA DU ROC - Probably Nicky Hendersons best chance for a while in this and qualifies for the list on his 2nd in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Snadown over 3m 5f in April last season. He's also run well in the Scottish National finishing 5th behind Vicente and recently won over 3m two and a half furlongs.
This test may appeal to his quirky nature. There's a doubt about him running as he's had a bit of colic so preparations may be on hold and Henderson suggested recently that he wouldn't be running. 9 years old.
CAROLE'S DESTRIER - Won the Betfair London National over 3m 5f at Sandown in December 2015 and finished 2nd to Native River in 2016 Hennessy over 3m 2f where he was beaten half a length when in receipt of 8lbs in which he literally flew past Blaklion after the last and he's now 9lb better off with him. Native River went on to win the Welsh National and run a close 3rd in the Gold Cup so that was as good a form as you can get.
Carole's Destrier was 8th in this years Hennesy having missed his prep at Ascot - albeit the time of this years race was about 4 secs slower than the previous year in which he was 2nd. Neil Mulholland is adept at readying one for a big handicap and this is his only entry with a chance of running and this has been the plan. If he can rediscover his best form he would have a very good chance of winning the National off 146 and if the weights go up he would still only be carrying 10-9. He's entered up for a race at Doncaster next week. 10 years old.
ABOLITIONIST - Was 3rd in the Irish Grand National when he tried to get into a fight with Our Duke turning for home and he made a bit of a howler at the last fence. He was bought by Dr Richard Newland with a view to running in this. He is adept at improving horses so it may be no surprise that he chose not to run him before the weights were announced. Looks like he may contest a hurdle and the Kim Muir en route to the big one. Stable have won this before with Pineau De Re. 10 years old.
I JUST KNOW - 55th on the list of runners so hopefully should squeeze in. Won the North Yorkshire Grand National Handicap Chase at Catterick over 3m 6f in January by 15 lengths putting in a relentless gallop from the front and won going away. He does just what he has to jumping wise so something unusual could catch him out but he could still be progressing. Stable have won this before with Aurora's Encore in 2013 at 66/1 and that was the first time the race was run over the new shorter distance. He was rated 137 and probably wouldn't be rated high enough to get in the race now. I Just Know is 8 years old.
FINAL NUDGE - 68th on the list so the chances of him getting a run are slim but he qualifies by virtue of his 3rd place in the Welsh National in January albeit he was soundly beaten. he goes either for the Kim Muir or Midlands National next. 9 years old.
MILANSBAR - 69th on the list so unlikely to get a run but he won the Betfred Classic Handicap chase at Warwick over 3m 5f on his most recent start beating Cogry. 11 years old.
Six of the last 7 winners have had an SP of 25/1 or more so there is some value to be had in finding the winner of the National and as you can see a lot of the horses can be eliminated pretty quickly.
The going will be at least be Good to Soft or Softer as last year the course was watered in order to maintain the National course as Good to Soft so I would imagine that will be the idea again as it all went well from a safety point of view and that has been paramount of late. The last Good ground National we had was in 2012 when Neptune Collonges won and the previous two years had also been won on Good going by Ballabriggs and Don't Push It but it's unlikely the clerk of the course will let it go there again.
Blaklion should have won last year and in hindsight everyone now accepts he just went for home too early. He's a year older and wiser this time around and has won the Becher Chase but will he have missed his best chance?.
Last year the top trainer at the meeting was Colin Tizzard with 5 wins and 1 second having come into the meeting without a winner for a while. In second place was Nicky Henderson with 3 wins and 5 seconds. The top jockey was Robbie Power with 4 wins and Barry Geraghty was second with 3 wins.
Of the owners Gigginstown House Stud ran 5 in the National last season after all their moaning about the weights and this season they currently have 6 in the top 40 so the chances are, barring injury, all 6 could run although O'Leary at this stage picks out Alphs Des Obeaux, Tiger Roll and A Genie In Abottle as his most likely runners. J. P. McManus ran 3 last season and currently has 6 in the top 40 as well as Pendra on 57 who should also get in the race. All 7 are trained by different trainers.
Of the above selections we can remove some namely Minella Rocco(Probably won't run), Tiger Roll(shoddy jumping), Vyta Du Roc(likely non runner), Final Nudge(unlikely to get in race) and Milansbar(unlikley to get in race)
That leaves us with the following on my shortlist to win and their best current odds to win are:
Total Recall - Generally 12/1
Vicente - 33/1 with a number of bookmakers
Chase The Spud - 50/1 with all firms
Seeyouatmidnight - 33/1 Generally
Carole's Destrier - 66/1 with William Hill and Coral
Abolitionist - 33/1 with two or three bookies
I Just Know - 50/1 Generally
I'm not sure 12/1 represents great odds to win a National even on the day of the race let alone now so I would leave Total Recall out of any ante post bets and just do the other six.
The others all operate on either Good to Soft, Soft or heavy and all have the required stamina to win.
If I was in a position to back just one it would be Carole's Destrier as 66/1 represents outstanding odds for a horse with a bit of class in my view - 2 points ew with Coral, who offer 5 places, would be my bet.
My second best would be Vicente and third best Abolitionist both at 1 point ew and I would have a smaller saver on the other three nearer the time of the race.
Good Luck and see you in April for another look.
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